Welcome Everyone In

I ended up in the second row of seats. It wasn’t the plan as I rode along with my dad and sister. She was at the permit stage of obtaining her license.

Because there were eight of us, my parents owned a station wagon. This was before any of us buckled a seatbelt. They hung unused as we flew at high speeds down highways, never thinking.

I would often play in the car because it was somewhere I could be by myself, out of the chaotic house of all the uproar. The far back was my favorite. It was designed with benches facing each other in a circle, much different than the middle and front.

When it was parked in the garage, I would bring in toys and entertain myself away from the tension of parents and four teens. I was so much younger than the rest of them that I had to separate myself from the noise I didn’t understand.

My brothers were often assigned to sit there when we went somewhere, so I did when I got the chance to have it to myself.

My dad had handed me a pack of MMs just before we got in to go on this drive from hell.

If he had to pick something up on the way home, he would get me some and slide them into his pocket. When he walked in the door, he would put me on top of the refrigerator and ask me if I had been good. It was like a truth serum because it was high up, and I was at his mercy to get me down. I always said I was, so he would secretly hand me the packet so my mom didn’t see.

When I found out he was going out on a drive with her, I begged to go and sat way in the back.

I wasn’t aware of the fact that in her driver’s education classes, she had been exposed to so many scenes of accidents and life-threatening situations, which caused her to be extra jumpy with the brake.

And like I found out later when it was my turn to practice with him, he wasn’t exactly the voice of calm. He could make the most seasoned driver nervous before starting the car.

We had barely left home when it happened. There was a truck turning at a distance. I heard my dad tell her to go, but she stopped abruptly, sending me forward. I smacked into the back of the front seat with a thud. I landed, and I didn’t know how I had been displaced so fast.

This was way before all the commercials showing the crash dummies and the consequences of not being strapped in.

I recall sitting on the floor, dazed, much similar to when a bird flies into a window. You are there, but you aren’t.

His raised voice brought me back around.

“That truck was two blocks away! When I say go, go!”

Both of them were so focused on the road that a few moments went by.

When it got quiet, he suddenly realized he had another child in the car, and I was no longer where I had been. He looked down and said,

“Chris, you can’t sit there! Get up on the seat.” As if that was safer.

Not, “Hey, are you okay?” That speaks volumes to what our life was like then, where every man had to look out for themselves. There wasn’t time for me to be flying forward out of control in a car. It wasn’t convenient.

He said it like I had chosen this for fun. When the realization hit me that my candy had also been a victim, that is when I got upset. Not that I could have gone through the windshield headfirst, but that I was holding an empty bag in my hand. I had no idea the danger I had been in.

That wasn’t the only time I was a passenger and subjected to a scary ride. A part of my social service job was to visit potential residents in their homes, other care facilities, or hospitals. I had a waiting list a million miles long. Legislation had been passed that no more nursing homes could be built in our state. Many needed long-term care, so we were never short of possible cases.

This was before the luxury of speaking into a device that would direct you to your destination. It entailed getting on the phone and having someone give you directions that you had to write down.

“So take a left by the restaurant that is operated by my friend’s brother’s sister’s cousin. Then, take a right by the gravel road, come to a stop sign, and then go about two inches before you run right into a gas station that got robbed last week and take an immediate left. Continue straight until you see a white picket fence that needs a fresh coat, and then there will be this huge sign that you cannot miss. The entryway will be right there. But, you can’t park there, so you will have to drive around to the back, and there is this small section where visitors can park, or you will be towed. Does that make sense?”

Sure, it does. And you drove with a piece of paper in your hand with things scribbled on it that made sense when you wrote them, but now they are not readable.

It was madness, and if I was unfamiliar with an area, I could easily get lost. I struggle with getting left and right correct at times. Throw in a snowstorm, then that was a whole other variable to contend with.

I had to work closely with nursing. While I assessed the person’s personality, they determined how much care we would provide. Depending on where the opening was, we had to match the resident to the proper location in the building.

“I am ready to go,” she said, entering my office.

“Okay,” I said, not knowing much about her. She was a new hire, much older than I was, but she seemed very knowledgeable about her profession. This was her first time going on a visit like this, and her supervisor knew I had gone on many of them and would be able to help her.

“I will drive,” she said.

“Do you have directions?” I asked.

“Yes. I wrote them down. You can help me get there.”

I didn’t notice her edginess at first, but then I did detect her breathing seemed a bit more rapid. I kept my eyes on the road as we had started to get into more heavy traffic. While we had been discussing the details of the family we were about to see, she had seemed relaxed, but as we went, she suddenly got quieter.

That is when she started applying the brake too much. There wasn’t any reason to do what she was doing, so I said,

“Are you having trouble driving?”

Cars were going around her, and I could see that people were getting annoyed with her sudden stops.

“I have a trigger leg,” she said with a choke.

I have this weird thing where I see pictures when people say certain words in my mind. I pictured the horse Trigger.

“What?” I asked. “I don’t understand.”

“When I drive, and I get scared, I can’t control my leg.”

I looked down.

“Which one are we talking about?” I asked. I was hoping to God it was not the one she used to drive.

“The one I drive with.” I saw her hands gripped tighter on the wheel, and her forehead looked sweaty.

“I think we are okay. There isn’t anything to be afraid of right now.”

I said this as if I believed it. I was not frightened by the other cars around her, but more so by her behavior.

“Why didn’t you tell me this? I could have done the driving,” I said, feeling trapped in. I controlled my voice so she didn’t know how terrified I was.

“It embarrasses me to tell people,” she said awkwardly.

It got more pronounced with my neck being jolted forward and back, and I was starting to feel sick. I would have to be admitted to the hospital for whiplash by the time we arrived.

I had that familiar feeling of something else taking over and speaking through me to her. The more I told her she was safe, she seemed to stop doing what she said was so uncontrollable. A peace seemed to take over the car, and she quit repeatedly pushing on the brake.

When she parked the car, she told me that she had never been able to get it under control like that before. After our appointment, she asked me if I wanted to drive.

“No,” I said, not believing I was going to let her take me on another ride. “I think you will do just fine.”

It was now rush hour, and she had no problem getting us back without one hiccup or trigger or anything.

In both cases, I was unknowingly in places with the potential for bad outcomes, but it seems like I had been given some heavenly help to protect from injury or death. I was not where I am spiritually now. I was not even giving God the time of day during those periods of my life. But, I was extended what is described in Psalm 34:7,

The messenger of the Eternal God surrounds everyone who walks with Him and is always there to protect us and rescue us. (VOICE)

That says to me that God looks beyond our faults or ignorance and is not a fire and brimstone deity that has been professed by those who don’t know the truth.

The other day, I saw a man standing by the gates of heaven as he waited for someone to cross over. A lady was in hospice and expected to pass soon. She did that night.

I saw him waiting with a big bouquet of flowers that took both hands to hold. I told her daughter this as she was afraid of the process and felt as if her mom would be alone. There was uncertainty about the afterlife and what to expect. Would she be accepted into heaven?

The flowers represented how much he loved this one about to transition. I saw some specific details of this man who resembled a relative that had passed on. When I don’t personally know the family, I feel like I am shooting in the dark, but it was suspected he was a person the dying woman had been very close to by the way I described him. I was able to comfort the daughter, who was feeling uncertain. That is how God works. Even at the point of leaving this world, we are cared for.

Every time I have seen heaven, the gates are never closed. He doesn’t want to shut us out but longs to welcome everyone in.

Revenge

One of the best environments to perfect your conflict resolution skills is in the presence of children who all want to play with the same toy. This was a daily occurrence in the daycare I operated out of my home.

“I had it first,” one would say.

“No! I did!”

I always hoped that the two parties would sort it out without my intervention, but those wishes never came true.

I usually had to pull two kids off of each other, with one clutching onto the highly sought after item for dear life.

An orange plastic spatula from the kitchen set could suddenly be the hot commodity of the day for no reason. And in the heat of the battle, a weapon to ward off the competition. It was anyone’s guess what would be next. It was like an invisible wheel was spun, and without warning, a fight broke out over the dark blue crayon because someone wanted to color a picture of the sky.

“What about light blue?” I would ask.

“No! I want that one!”

You can’t interfere with the vision of a budding artist.

These brawls could escalate fast and turn physical quickly. The worst offense was when someone would make the poor decision to bite someone else.

None of the behavior was acceptable, and I knew I was training these people for their futures. I didn’t want anyone going into a business meeting at thirty and sinking their teeth into their employer or coworkers.

This is where I had to teach them how to get along in the world and deal with other people without drawing blood.

Molly, the oldest of the group, introduced me to this way of handling her emotions. She had no problem chomping into her brother’s nearby arm. And usually, it was when I wasn’t looking she would do so.

The next thing I knew, he would be running toward me, mouth wide open, face contorted and making no sound until he exhaled. On that output of oxygen, I knew that an ear-shattering sound was about to erupt.

He would throw himself at me, and in between sobs, he would say,

“She bit me!”

I knew who the vampire was that he referred to without even asking. I would console him and ask where she had struck. Generally, it was his hand or arm, but she would go for his cheek below his eye on occasion.

“Molly. Why did you bite your brother?”

Now I had to be like Solomon and decide what punishment to hand out. If it were determined she had tried to wrestle something out of his hands and used her teeth to get it, she would be sent to a remote location where I could still see her and hear her but give her time to think.

She usually stormed off, highly irritated that I wouldn’t see her side of things even though she had assaulted him. I knew my judgment was fair, with the other kids testifying against her and an established pattern.

My oldest daughter never engaged in such combativeness. She generally tried to negotiate her way out of situations through reason. If something upset her, she would use her verbal skills to convey the injustice, and if she was in the wrong, I didn’t automatically give in just because I was her mom. I made her learn just like the rest of them.

She minded her own business most of the time until one of them would disrupt her peace. She was good at saying “no” very emphatically when the occasion called for it, and she never took something away from someone else. It was as if she knew the feeling of having that happen, so she never did that.

“She bit me, Miss Chris!” I heard Molly say.

I was helping another child get dressed for the day.

“Who?” I asked.

When she said my daughter’s name, I was shocked. Molly pulled up beside me and showed me the mark on her arm.

Great, it was spreading like a virus now.

When I questioned my daughter, she didn’t deny it.

“She hit me, so I bit her.”

The advantage of being at home made it possible for me to send her upstairs and know she would be safe.

Molly acted like she was on her death bed as I looked at the tiny indentation.

“Why do you think she did this?”

“I dunno.” The nervous shifting and hair twirling. Clear signs that Molly was not an innocent bystander.

When I asked later what happened, my daughter confessed that when Molly tried to grab what was in her hand, she fought to keep it. Then Molly slapped her, and my daughter then did what she knew was not right.

“Come and get me next time,” I said.

“I don’t like it when she bites her brother.”

“Then you shouldn’t do that.”

I was concerned that once this started, maybe it wouldn’t be stopped, and all of them would be snarling like rabid dogs.

I took my daughter to a store and made her pick out something to give to Molly to make amends with the promise never to do it again.

That was the easy part. The problematic portion was the “I am sorry.” On some level, my daughter felt like Molly deserved the pain inflicted on her. And secretly, so did I. But, we had to do the right thing, and that’s not always fun.

I just wanted everyone’s teeth kept to themselves, and it seemed to disappear after that when the olive branch was extended.

While that seemed to be over, my youngest daughter would apologize when I prompted her, but its sincerity was questionable.

“You need to tell your sister that you are sorry.”

She had excellent enunciation skills until that moment. This child was advanced on all levels. She was up and running at nine months old and speaking so clearly in complete sentences like she had already been to preschool when she hit a year.

So when it came to apologizing, and she slurred her words, that was a slight hint that she was faking it. She threw a “w” in where one should not have been.

“I am sorry” got changed to “sworrie” with no pronoun. She thought it was good enough as she would say it and then run off before I could stop her. It was the least amount of effort to get out from the line of fire. I would often return her to the crime scene, wrestle with her to have her stand still, and have her repeat after me.

The two of them can be competitive. Board games and cards have always been grudge matches where they often go after one another while I sit back and watch the carnage. Many times I end up winning as an observer, like Switzerland.

When we played Sorry! they never could gently land on the other player’s space and put them back at home. It was a trouncing on that piece with it flying across the room and the yelling of “sorry, not sorry!”

They did this through every single game to each other. Back and forth with a vengeance, they would roll, slide and knock each other off. If one of them didn’t notice that the other had invaded their spot, silence would hang in the air until the opponent was fully aware that they were about to be sent back to start. An innocent pawn would be removed with a flick of a wrist, making someone’s blood boil.

Like what you witness daily while in your car when you see a vehicle cut someone off.

Or like the other day when I was waiting in a long line at a store and this lady who was talking on her phone, totally oblivious to the world going on around her, walked in front of me to go next. I would have stayed quiet, but I had to be somewhere.

When I told her the line was behind me, she snapped at me as if I were the problem and then returned to her call. You can’t help some people.

Not too long ago, just before a holiday when the store was bursting at the seams with people, I was in another line in the same situation, and a man with a cart full of items materialized in front of me with a lot of people waiting.

“There’s a line behind me,” I said.

He spun around, and I thought it would be the usual apology, but instead, he said condescendingly,

“Just relax!”

And he didn’t move.

“I am relaxed,” I said. “I’m letting you know that the line is behind me.”

Again he said,

“Relax!”

He held out the last sound like a hiss and proceeded to take the next available register while the rest of us stood around longer.

How do we possibly live here with such horrible people? I’m asking for a friend.

It is not easy to coexist with others who seem to go out of their way to run others over. The only way I can cope with it at times is to tell myself I won’t ever see them again, hopefully. Apparently, we are to take it one step farther according to 1 Thessalonians 5:15,

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. (NIV)

Easier said than done, but it doesn’t cause you damage in the long run.

To carry the offense is to drag along baggage that weighs you down and changes your outlook on life. Soon, it becomes a habit to find something wrong with everything and everybody because now you have formed a negative attitude.

So what are you supposed to do instead? 1 Peter 3:9 says this,

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (NIV)

In the tension of the moment, or after years of putting up with bad behavior, it is tempting to want to lash out and return with a nasty remark, but what does that accomplish in the long run? It’s a temporary high that creates more darkness.

I have found that most of my spiritual growth has come when I have had to control my responses and let God take over. It doesn’t mean denying how I feel, but when I am not doing the talking, all the right words seem to pour out, and the situation gets diffused. It’s like a game of tug of war where someone drops the rope, and it ends it.

God, the one I know, is described as omnipotent and benevolent. Meaning, the best outcome will happen if you allow divine intervention and the putting aside of your way. That will always win over revenge.

(Are you really sorry? I don’t think so..)
(Try and stay out of it..)

Fenced In

“I think your dog got out,” she said when I came around the corner. “My boys opened the front door, and she ran off.”

She was still speaking while I was flying toward the front yard. The way it was said so casually indicated to me that she had no idea the jog I was about to take. Or the danger that my pet was in.

It was pouring rain, and I had dashed out without shoes so my socks were soaking wet in seconds. I could see her way up ahead, nose to the ground, oblivious to the cars zipping by.

This wasn’t the first chase I had been on since getting her. I had no idea when I was researching dog breeds and which one to get that this would be something to contend with.

She had been born and raised in a place that wasn’t the best. When I got to the location, there were beagle puppies running everywhere. The mom hid under an old beat-up car and looked at me with sad eyes. I didn’t know about puppy mills back then, but the conditions looked rough. When I took her to the vet because she had so many parasites, I was given medication actually to save her life.

“If you hadn’t taken her in, she would have died soon,” I was told. She was so wild and full of energy that I would have never known.

It appeared to be a farm that hadn’t been taken care of, so dog breeding had been thrown in to raise funds. There were so many dogs going in all directions that I decided to sit on a gravel path to see what would happen.

A very tiny girl puppy came and started pulling on my shoelace. The harder I tried to get it away from her, the more ferocious she held on and threw in a little growl while wagging her tail. When she was tired of that, she curled up in my lap.

“She’s the runt of the litter,” the breeder said. So was I, and she became mine.

My backyard had no fence, but we were told she was so small that we could probably catch her. Probably not. A chain-link fence had to go up immediately.

I took her to obedience classes. While all the other students ran to their owners, she visited everyone else and their dogs around the room. I wasn’t even an afterthought.

“Beagles have a heart of gold, but they will not listen. They will follow a scent and forget what is around them completely. They get focused and do not hear. It’s really difficult to train that out of them.”

So I ran down the sidewalk yelling her name, trying to catch her attention during a spring thunderstorm. We never went out the front door, and the people there were looking to buy something listed in the paper.

A neighbor waved at me from his garage as I tried to get closer to her. All of them had seen this happen so many times between the two of us.

She would spend a few moments on one spot of grass and then suddenly zoom away as if triggered by a smell of something she just had to investigate.

It ended the same way every single time. I was now blocks from home, within inches of her, out of breath, and she would realize I was behind her.

“Libby!” I would say for the millionth time, and she would stop.

“You stay.” And she would, now worn out from her half-crazed jaunt.

She wasn’t sitting still out of realizing she had done wrong; she was exhausted and wanted a lift back home.

Curling into a small ball, she would wait until I picked her up to carry her.

I walked back into my house with a dripping wet dog. I peeled off my socks in the kitchen.

“Oh. You caught her,” the lady said, smiling. My hair was dripping into my eyes. One of her teenage boys went through the front door, and Libby charged again, ready to have a second round. I grabbed her before It could happen.

I went over and locked the door. The lady looked at me like I was being rude, locking her son outside.

With a tight grip on the dog, I said,

“Either they stay in the garage or come in the house. I have had my exercise for today.”

I stalked off to find dry towels with her securely in my arms. If given a chance, she would do it all over again. And that lady didn’t get it.

Some would say that an animal can’t control their behavior, such as Libby, who once on a trail had to follow it.

I have met people who have been on that path. It’s operating on no filter and sheer determination to satisfy something that may be a bit out of balance.

During one of my shifts as a shelver at a public library, I was approached by a woman.

“Can you tell me where the adult videos are?” It was a low whisper.

I held a stack of DVDs that I was putting back. I knew what she was asking me, but I decided to pretend I didn’t fully comprehend.

“All of the material for adults is right here. The children’s section is toward the entry.”

I made no eye contact and went back to my task. This was one of those moments when I wished she had gone to the reference desk. I was a lowly shelver, and they were paid and trained to deal with these issues.

“No,” she insisted. This is not what I am looking for. I want movies for adults.”

I held up what I had in my hands.

“These are for adults.”

I was trying to have her give up and walk away. Inwardly, I was screaming for God to help me. I kept my facial expression neutral.

“You don’t seem to understand me,” she retorted. Now she was getting snippy, not realizing I was brushing her off for her good.

“I want movies made for adults only.”

“You are looking right at them,” I said, not budging for the third time.

“I want X-rated movies. Porn! I want porn!” She said this not with an inside voice, and her quest to get what she wanted had overtaken her ability to practice self-control in a public place.

A couple of patrons glanced our way. It was a quiet weeknight, so the crowd was thin, but the older man looking at the history selection looked a bit shocked. I smiled weakly at him. I knew it was part of my job to keep things orderly, and that wasn’t just the books.

My subtle efforts to redirect her had gone unnoticed, so I had to set her straight now. Her drive for something like my beagle escaping was taking her to places she shouldn’t be.

“This is a public library. Are you aware of how the media gets paid for so you and everyone else can come here and check out material for free? Do you know how that system works?”

She blinked when the realization hit her that I was a lot more intelligent than I had come across initially. I didn’t demean her, but with as much professionalism I had within me, I continued to inform her about the ways and means of purchases made so the community at large could enjoy them.

“This is all possible with taxpayer money. Do you think people will sign up to pay for what you are looking for?”

Now she had gone silent. I had killed the mood with talk about taxes. You can pretty much make a room go silent if you start talking about the IRS.

“You aren’t going to find what you are looking for anywhere in this building. Does that make sense?”

She nodded.

“I don’t want to see you wasting your time going from place to place searching for something that doesn’t exist. You will not find that here or at any other locations.”

I was helping her but also sparing other employees from this conversation later.

I kept my voice low and made sure I didn’t make her feel bad. If anyone felt horrible, it was me! I wanted to drop everything and run for the break room. But I fought off my awkwardness to help her understand.

Suddenly, she looked ashamed, mumbled thank you, and walked away.

She just needed someone to put down a boundary to bring clarity.

No one is immune to saying or doing things based on habits or even false ways of thinking. Self-discipline isn’t always at the top of the priority list, and something that starts out innocently can run amuck.

I learned this when I was in elementary school. Every Christmas, my dad would make homemade chip dip. This was the only time of the year that we would have it, and it was my favorite. I basically ate nothing else but that when he brought it out on Christmas Eve. It was like a bowl of an addictive substance I could not leave alone. And every year at midnight, I was violently throwing up.

When I was nine years old, my mom anticipated my upcoming vomit session by addressing me before it hit the table.

“Chris, try not to overeat that this year.” She told me this while he had the mixer going and was in the process of putting it together.

As she gave me this speech, my brother’s girlfriend asked,

“What are you talking about?”

“Chris throws up every year because she overeats chip dip. Every year!” She had to add a sigh like it was the end of the world.

“I will give you a quarter if you don’t get sick this time,” she said.

As the night went by, I thought about the deal struck, and it made me consider my choices. I limited my indulgence. It was my first year that I didn’t have to run for the bathroom in the early hours of Christmas Day. My mother rejoiced and offered me a quarter until my late thirties to ensure I never did it again.

All that was needed was a guideline so I could adjust my actions. While I had to be the guardian of Libby and give assertive instruction to a stranger in the library, I had control over my own fate.

When it gets difficult to see past the addiction or the behaviors that aren’t for your highest good, that’s where God can help. Heaven will come gently to your side and offer assistance so you can advance. It might be in the form of a counselor, a sign that change must occur, or a quarter. In 2 Corinthians 3:17, it says,

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (NIV)

And if you are wondering if God wants to be there for you, read this from Psalm 91,

If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
“I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me, and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life.” (Message)

All it takes is realizing that you want better for yourself and a simple prayer. Strength will come to you to get past the situation where you can live at a higher level, with no limitations, never feeling restricted or fenced in.

(Just Say No…)

Illusion

“Do you see the penny?”

“Yes,” I said.

I knew what was coming next because my brothers had shown me this trick repeatedly. The shiny copper piece would be held before my eyes to ensure I watched. The master was performing it, though, and he had taught the three of them how to do it.

“Now watch. I’m going to rub it into my elbow.”

When I think about it now, that’s the most ridiculous thing I could ever imagine falling for. Why not involve his kneecap? What was so magical about his elbow? A magician has to use whatever he can to get his audience to be receptive.

So he would start to move his hand with the coin in it, but he would drop it at least three times to keep my full attention. He would pretend to be clumsy, let it loudly rattle on the table, and have to start the process all over again.

Then, it would totally disappear. The hand it had been in would be empty. He would take the other hand, put it up to my ear and say,

“It’s right here!” And it would materialize out of thin air. I hadn’t felt a thing, so how could that happen? If I had money stashed away that close by, life would have been so much easier.

“Do you want to see it again?” He would ask.

“Yes,” I would say because I thought I had missed something. My dad could do that at least 100 times, and it was like watching it for the first time.

As I got out of my preschool years, I wanted to know how he manipulated it, but he wouldn’t show me. The other day I said,

“Here. Teach me how to do that disappearing thing you used to do.” I handed him a dime.

“What? That’s so ancient! I can’t remember that, Chris.”

“You better. I have waited a long time for you to tell me this. It will come back to you.”

He dropped the dime I had given him multiple times due to his shaky hands, not for the show. But it did all flood into his memory as he went through the motions.

“So you switched hands,” I said. I demonstrated it to him.

“I never showed you how I did that?”

“No.”

“Now it spoils it for you. It takes away the mystery. But now you can baffle people.”

“Baffle, huh? Really? I wouldn’t say anyone would be in awe of that unless they are really naive.”

He laughed.

“But it does take away the secret of it.”

It wasn’t the first time I had been told the truth about something that had seemed so real.

I was led to think that Santa would show up every Christmas Eve. Presents from him would always appear in the living room while I was in the basement. I was the last one of the kids to accept this, and the others never said a word. They let me have the experience just like they had.

I trusted that what I heard was true. I equated Santa with God. So when my mom announced to me on Christmas Eve that he wasn’t real, I thought she was joking. When it became clear that she wasn’t lying to me, I wondered if everything else I had been told was accurate.

It wasn’t difficult to be in a religious organization and lack a closeness with God. And this upsetting news made it easy for me to question everything. It wasn’t that I had been fooled into a myth, it was how I was told and when. The timing of it was not ideal for a seven-year-old.

When unpleasant things happen, you can decide not to repeat history, and that was my goal with my girls. Because of my disappointment long ago, I chose to skip the traditional man in the red suit coming down the chimney. Instead, I always hid a gift that they had to find. Because after all, the element of surprise was the aim. There were a few wrinkles to iron out, however.

I found out that the game of hot and cold was a challenge for my oldest. As she got closer to what she was seeking, and I would say, “You are burning up,” she would suddenly run away as if she were in danger. It took a few times for her to understand that cold wasn’t what she wanted. I had spent years telling her not to touch a hot stove, so that’s where I think the confusion came in. So, we pressed on, and I had to undo some of my parental training so she could find her elusive item.

I made sure to reiterate not to run with scissors, though.

“You are ruining Christmas!” A family member said who learned of my rouge departure from the iconic Christmas character. I got a tongue lashing on how horrible I was for taking away all the ‘fun’ out of the holiday. There was another person nearby who agreed with my stance, but they suddenly lost their ability to speak, so I withstood the beat down.

I didn’t listen. I bought a book that explained the place St. Nicholas took in history as a generous man who made sure that the poor were cared for. I educated my girls to know who he really was, not the one depicted in movies or cartoons.

I told them both to never ruin it for others but keep it to themselves.

“Santa isn’t real,” said my youngest daughter at the age of three, out loud to her friend as they looked at a display at a mall. Before I could clamp my hand over her mouth to stop more from spilling out, her friend said,

“Oh, I know! That’s Santa’s helpers. That isn’t the real Santa, silly!”

There is a God.

I wondered at times if I was damaging them somehow by not adhering to age-old rules. Was I stripping them of something that others were participating in and they were not? There were small indications along the way that I wasn’t completely destroying their childhood.

“I’m buying this so I will get a Nintendo DS.”

My oldest daughter showed me a game that only could be played on that particular handheld device. At the age of twelve, she set the intention and expected it; soon, she got it. She applied her faith, and the money she needed to buy it showed up.

My youngest daughter was sitting on my lap during a magic show when she was four years old. The guy on stage would hold out his hands, and doves would suddenly fly out. I watched as she put her hands together, trying to recreate what he was doing. It was the beginning of her understanding that she could make things appear that hadn’t been there before.

Throughout the years, I tried to model for them what this verse meant from Hebrews 11:1,

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead. (Living Bible)

During tough times, I would write down what I needed God to do for me. Like a Christmas list, mine had things on it, such as getting the house repainted, the dishwasher fixed, and money for a car repair. I wanted them to understand that prayer doesn’t only operate during a season, but it is always available to stream to us what we need. There were times I had no idea how problems would be solved, but I let them know I was giving it to God, so they could do the same.

The idea that we can ask for help from an entity outside ourselves is prevalent. It seems to have been downloaded right into our DNA.

Instead of having them put their hopes in a legend, I had them look to the One who owns it all and have lifelong, genuine communication with heaven, which is real and not an illusion.

(He is a good second place, though)

Small Stuff

Going into the building was the last thing I wanted to do. So many changes were happening at once, but I was moving forward, trying to make life seem normal after the wreckage.

I was newly divorced with two young girls, one eight and the other barely thirteen. It was up to me to make sure they saw me as confident because I felt enough damage had already been done.

I had a mix of emotions, from guilt, fear to relief. It was as if I would circle through those repeatedly, never really staying secure at any given moment. I expected bad news to come all the time.

My lawyer had me complete paperwork to apply for medical assistance through the state. I had a family member make sure to tell me I was on “welfare,” which disturbed me. It was stated in a way to let me know that I had fallen to a level of low that they for sure never would.

I had difficulty believing I was relying on taxpayer money to live. It brought me so much shame that even with “free” healthcare provided, I rarely went to see a doctor, even if I was deathly ill. And during this time of high stress and negative thinking, I was sick a lot.

I chose not to accept food stamps, which seemed like I totally hadn’t plunged into darkness. It gave me a shred of hope that I could at least buy food and household items without it being a handout. The comment by my relative had bothered me so much that I brought it up to the therapist I was seeing. I had been given a court order to attend counseling sessions, so the girls and I complied.

The therapist’s response was,

“I would gladly pay for you to get back on your feet again. For you and your girls.”

I never forgot the remark that was made to me because it was cruel, but it also made me see how far I had come to understand all of this where before I hadn’t.

If someone mentioned that their marriage was over, I used to let it go in one ear and out the other. I had absolutely no understanding of the pain involved, so I stood silently by. But after mine, I was able to ask questions, understand, and put myself in that person’s shoes. I wanted details so I could help if I could.

I realized that the demeaning comment that was made was from ignorance.

I had to deliver the applications to the office building following legal advice. I waited in a room with countless others who all had the same dead look in their eyes. Many had small children with them while others were like me, sitting with a number in hand and a packet in the other.

A few floors down, there was a community food shelf that my dad volunteered for. Every Friday, he would get up early and drive to various grocery stores to pick up boxes and donations. He would then drop them off and go to work handing out items to those in need. He knew I was struggling mentally with all of this, so he would pull up into my driveway and carry in what had been left after every one of his shifts.

“I just brought you a few things,” he would say to get past my objection.

Because my kids were so happy to see him, I allowed him to help me. But, I hated that I was in this situation, to begin with. It took a while for gratitude to replace my low feelings.

Because money had been so scarce, I had even cut back on what I ate; It was a form of self-punishment for being one half of a failed equation. I felt like I deserved nothing good, and the girls were innocent victims, so I wanted everything to go to them.

I worked three jobs, home-schooled, and felt like I was living in hell. All the outdoor work was mine to contend with, from raking, mowing, and snow removal. I couldn’t afford to hire anyone, so I had to learn quickly.

When they wanted lights on the house for Christmas, I got on a ladder and did it myself.

I had asked for help from someone who knew how, but instead of coming over and showing me what to do, he tried to explain it over the phone. This was not helpful at all. It reminded me of this verse, 1 John 3:17:

If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear. (Message)

It sent the message to me that I wasn’t worth the time.

I went to church, prayed, read my Bible, and taught various children’s classes, but I was fighting off panic attacks, sleepless nights and felt dread as if something terrible could happen at any moment. Yet, I slapped a smile on and pretended that all was well.

Somehow, a friend convinced me to go in to have a physical. I think she could see the stress wearing on me.

“If something happens to you, what would happen to your kids?”

Because I solely existed for them, I listened and went in. A few days later, I received a phone call.

“The results of your mammogram show something abnormal on your left side. We need you to schedule a follow-up appointment so we can run more tests.”

The next phone call was from a support counselor.

“Are you afraid of getting a cancer diagnosis?“

“No,” I said. And I meant it. I was so numb and worn out from all the turmoil of my life, I didn’t care anymore.

“Are you sure you aren’t worried?” I didn’t have any of it left.

“No,” I repeated. “God will help me. Whatever the outcome, I will be okay.”

I could say all the right things robotically, but I didn’t trust God altogether because of all the bad that had come my way.

A few weeks later, I was in another waiting room with a lady who had the same appearance as what I had seen in the financial assistance office. It was the look of dejection and uncertainty. The person with her tried to cheer her up, but she kept crying. When her name was called, she slowly got up, slumped shoulders, and went off to find out her fate.

Usually, that would have made me afraid, but I wasn’t. When you don’t care anymore, fear can’t even find you.

“We saw a shadow on the left.” The room was dark and only lit by the machine. “We want to do a test that will give us a sharper image,” the technician said.

As she went through various procedures, she asked me about my life. So I told her everything. All of it. It poured out of me without any emotional upheaval.

She stood back from me for a minute and said,

“Do you know how strong you are? Do you see that in yourself?”

“No,” I said.

“You are so strong. I have never met someone as strong as you.”

And, yet, I felt alone and weak.

When she said “strong,” I instantly saw my youngest daughter hugging me. When the breakdown of our family began, she would run up to me, throw herself around my waist and not let me move. No matter how I tried to get away from her, she would hold me in place, and she would say over and over,

“Mom, you are strong.” This little eight-year-old child was the voice of God, and I hadn’t even realized it.

The results came back that nothing was out of the ordinary, so I was spared.

Many more trials have come since then, and most not pleasant; however, I have learned in each instance. And I have seen the faithfulness of God.

The other day, when I said something out loud that was bothering me, the same girl who told me I was strong 15 years ago looked at me and said,

“Mother, you hear from heaven! Why would you even worry about this?”

She’s right. Sometimes we don’t see in ourselves what others can, and a reminder is necessary. God can bring that to you when you need it most. Even in a coffee shop.

I was with my oldest daughter at a mall, and to our surprise, all drinks, no matter the size, were $1.00.

So I let her pay. On the wall, we saw a row of pins hanging. A guy who worked there said,

“Take one. They are complementary.”

I chose the one that has been my lesson while here on earth. The enormity of a problem is only as much as you worry about it.

When you put it into God’s hands, you become an observer, as you watch heaven take over and transform it, you stress less about the small stuff.

Lying In It

She showed me the bruises that were developing in random places. It looked like she had been in a boxing ring and not on her bed.

“Let me see where else.”

I couldn’t believe the purple marks that were on the backs of her arms and legs.

She had purchased a new mattress from a retailer with locations all around us. We had gone to a furniture store together, but there wasn’t anything that interested her.

I tried to dodge the salesperson at first, but he eventually caught up to us like a heat-seeking missile. He wanted me to understand how forgiving the mattress was by having me lay on my keys.

“You can’t even feel those, right?”

“I do still feel them,” I said.

“Well, you are small, so a heavier person would probably have a better result of what I am trying to demonstrate.”

Who sleeps with their keys underneath them anyway? That’s like the commercials where they cut a tin can in half with a kitchen knife to show how sharp it is. What crazy person would do that?

“This reminds me of the princess and the pea story,” I said.

A potential wife for the prince is put to the test by the queen to see if she is sensitive enough to carry on the royal blood. So a pea is placed under twenty mattresses, and if the would-be bride feels it, she is approved for marriage.

My house key was leaving a mark.

He launched into a discussion about his own back problems and medical issues. Meanwhile, my daughter and I were stretched out like we were in a therapy session, except we were forced to listen instead of baring our souls. Generally, I am sleep deprived, so I ran the risk of falling asleep during his rundown of all of his physical ailments. My keys kept digging into my back, keeping me from drifting off.

We left the store, and she decided to seek out something else the following week. And she had done a great job of it. What she picked she was happy with financially and comfort-wise. Within days, I opened the door to two workers who whisked her new purchase down the stairs.

Everything appeared normal. The adjustable base made it so she could sit up straight or sleep comfortably and not wake up with stiffness.

“What is causing the injury to you?” I asked, perplexed. It appeared she had been sleepwalking and falling repeatedly. I had never seen a person get up in the morning as if they had been in a street fight.

She explained that springs were pushing into her skin the entire time she slept. It wasn’t difficult to see that this was a design flaw that the company would have to resolve.

I went with her to the location where she bought it. I stood by as she explained her case. She wanted to return all of it and get a refund.

The man assisting her looked at the paperwork regarding her items and said,

“You could upgrade to a better bed. You bought one that isn’t the highest quality that we sell.”

It took everything within me not to unleash on this person. The day she had been in the store, her choice was praised, and only good was said about it. He was giving the impression that she hadn’t spent enough money to receive a regular functioning product. In other words, she was the problem, not their faulty bed. I saw the scam, and so did she. Sell a damaged piece of furniture, convince the customer that it’s their fault and rob them of more money.

“Do you want to look at another one?”

“No. I want my money back,” she said. I was grateful she was going that route with the mattress mafia.

He looked at his calendar and said they could pick it up in a couple of weeks. There was no urgency in this for him. I am sure the truck was booked, using it to dump off other beds to victims. And he hinted that there might be a restocking fee. I stayed quiet, but inside I could not believe that he thought we would fall for the bait and switch game that was going on.

Within the week, I helped her move the mattress off to the side while she went with a completely different company for something better that wouldn’t inflict pain on her.

After speaking to the original salesperson, her attempts to return it revealed that a portion of her money would not be given back after they came to retrieve the mattress.

She felt terrible about her decision, even though none of it was her fault. She discovered others who had the same problem. We began to see that in their business model, they were peddling beds that, to some, were perfect, but then, like in her case, they would try to upgrade when the consumer had complaints. Blaming and shaming were the key to keeping business flowing.

A friend of ours decided to take matters into her hands and started a formal complaint, acting as my daughter’s aunt. I followed up by helping my daughter write an email with threats of contacting agencies that could investigate and shut the business down. All of this worked in her favor.

She received a call from the corporate office and another call from the guy who helped her purchase it. They could not move quickly enough to get their product out of my home.

And she slept happily ever after.

The biggest struggle was that she felt she should have seen the warning signs before signing on the dotted line.

“How would you have known that?” I asked her, trying to help her understand that while it wasn’t a pleasant experience to go through, she had gained new insight into how to deal with an issue. She had come out of the entire thing with a full refund, plus she ended up getting a fantastic deal on her second option. With pillows included.

It’s easy to beat ourselves up over mistakes and decisions that we wish we could go back and undo. I felt that way when I moved to Arizona for eleven months. I had come from a bitterly cold climate into a land of sand and heat. Everything that could have gone wrong did. And scorpions.

A lot can be said about the blizzards and harsh temperatures in Minnesota, but the scorching sun can be just as bad. It would be before noon with the air conditioning running full blast, and I would break out in a sweat just making my bed.

The water never ran cool in the shower. Your choices were warm and hot even though there was a cold icon on the label. I had so much to learn and adapt to.

It seemed there was something new every day. We had an exterminator come once a month, but I kept finding scorpions throughout the house. They were small and tan, the same color as the carpet. I wore flip-flops everywhere.

I was given excellent advice to freeze them with hairspray and then send them to eternity. But caution had to be taken even in that process because apparently, the others know and seek revenge if you kill one.

The worst was the night my daughter was sitting at the kitchen table and happened to look up. Directly over her head was a rather large one crawling along the ceiling.

I was across the room with my back to her, but the rapid repeating of “mom” always indicates that horrific things are occurring.

I had heard that the bigger they are, the less poisonous. Like everything that causes me alarm, I study it to know every detail so I can face it. Being in the dark only adds to the fear.

I had gotten to the point of reassuring myself that it wouldn’t kill me if it did sting me as she darted away from it, potentially falling into her hair. I grabbed my can of spray, jumped up, stood in the middle of the table, and blasted nearly the entire contents. It was necessary. I was exhausted by this never-ending war. If I had a gun in my hand, I would have had no problem blowing a hole right into the sky.

The stain it left would just have to come out of the deposit put down during the signing of the rental agreement. It wasn’t as bad as a bullet hole.

I took care of the intruder, but more eye-opening experiences surfaced, like the hornets that would dive into the pool and swim alongside us, undeterred by the chemicals and chlorine. Not to mention the photo I received in the mail of a tiny weed growing in the front yard with a warning that there would be a fine from the HOA coming quickly if I didn’t eradicate it.

Then there were the gunshots and police that showed up just houses down frequently, the neighbor next door who let their dog bark below my bedroom window all night long until it finally slept when the sun came up, and the cockroaches that materialized out of thin air.

A cattle ranch nearby caused the worst smell to drift into your lungs and massive hordes of flies that enjoyed taking up your personal space.

The final nail in the coffin was when we visited a dentist who claimed we all had cavities. It was the weirdest experience after coming from one who we trusted completely. I had made sure our insurance would cover the one visit, but then the bill came. Nothing was covered, so I decided not to pursue the treatment that the three of us had been told was imperative.

After losing the battle over the money, I decided it was time to return to my house in Minnesota and leave this experiment behind. I was in the wrong place, and every door was slammed shut.

It was not easy to pack up everything again in less than a year and return. It cost a lot, it was labor-intensive, and it messed with me mentally for a long while. I thought I was doing the right thing, but it failed. Decision making for me became tough as this incident would rear its ugly head and remind me how stupid I had been. What else could I mess up?

In time, I reestablished myself and found that one error in judgment does not make a person. I saw how my elderly parents needed me back close by, there were other people that God wanted to bring across my path in Minnesota, and my dentist saw us and confirmed that our teeth were perfectly healthy. Not a cavity in sight. Had I stayed, that would have been trying to make something work that was long over. You can choose God’s way or yours, which is your ego.

If you find yourself in a circumstance where you realize that you cannot turn back the clock or just flip over the mattress, realize that this is something everyone has experienced. It can feel isolating, as if no one has ever been as screwed up as you are. But that’s a lie.

I did find in Janes 4 a good piece of advice to implement regularly to avoid future problems for myself.

You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”(Message)

That sounds a little harsh, but when it comes to making a decision, it’s good to realize it shouldn’t be done without asking for some divine guidance. And then you will see this from Proverbs 3,

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to God! (Message)

Don’t automatically react or respond to something out of obligation, peer pressure, or mass hysteria. Above all, don’t disregard the help from the unseen realm. This is the way of regret.

But if you take a minute to ask God what to do, an answer will come, and it will be the best one. Gone will be the days of remorse for making your bed and lying in it.

(It didn’t win)

Crown

I knew something was off when I felt a burning feeling across my gums. It didn’t stop there. A headache was beginning on both sides of my skull. My alarm went off, so I had no choice but to fully come into consciousness and deal with the harshness of what this morning was about to bring.

I had braces put on the day before, and while I slept, my memory erased it. I briefly thought it would be like any of my other days. I had no idea what was ahead.

My teeth felt hot, and if they would touch, it felt like electrical shocks, but I didn’t want to look like a monster with my mouth open all day. As each bracket was cemented on, the orthodontist said I might experience some discomfort the next day. His idea of that and mine was light-years apart. This was excruciating.

Pain reliever helped somewhat, but it did nothing for the metal that was scraping the inside of my mouth. I had been given soft pieces of wax to rip off and mold over the places where it was causing the most damage. That pretty much was every square inch.

I had a job as a social worker that demanded I speak, so it wasn’t like I could hide by myself in a cubicle and keep my mouth closed. I had to talk to staff, residents, and families all day long. The protective coating was melty, so it appeared I was drooling like a lunatic.

That was only the first day of many more to come.

The rubber band phase was even worse. I had hooks installed on my top and bottom teeth that I had to stretch bands across. They tended to disengage at the most inopportune times. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be in the middle of a serious discussion at a care conference and have one of them launch itself straight at a family member across from me. It was awkward to be discussing the poor oral hygiene of a resident and as if on cue, have my band go flying.

One man had to dodge it from hitting him in the eye. And that was just because I smiled at him. I said I was sorry a lot during that time of my life.

Everything I ate, I had to cut into pieces. Biting into an apple would have snapped off hardware, and I was told to stay away from anything sticky completely.

Every small change that was made brought on more adjusting. I had started out trying to solve a tooth problem that was slightly behind the rest on the bottom toward the front. I had put up with it for years, but I knew getting treatment was expensive.

Instead of putting that financial burden on my parents, I waited until my mid-twenties to get it resolved. There were many appointments starting with a cast made of my mouth. There were tightenings and band replacements as I went through nearly two years of being a cyborg.

Getting them off was another long appointment that led to being fitted for the retainer.

“You have to wear this twenty-four hours a day,” I was told.

On the bottom, he fastened a little permanent bar to stop shifting from occurring and clicked in a molded replica of the upper part of my mouth.

“How does that feel?” he asked.

“Gwait,” I said, now speaking in a foreign tongue.

Every phone call I had to take at work was a challenge. The tip of my tongue clashed with the plastic making my words sound distorted. I didn’t even understand me.

“This isth Quistine. Thoscial thersevice.” The actual words: This is Christine. Social Service.

I was required to say this at the beginning of every call, or the administrator would have a heart attack. She had rigorous protocols whether or not a person had a temporary speech impediment.

If I had removed my retainer every time I spoke, I would never have had it in my mouth. So I adapted and wore it. Soon, my speech became normal. It’s incredible how that happens when it seems like all hope is lost at first.

One of the long-term effects of straightening my teeth was it caused them to be weak. My treatment was done at a time when technology and procedures weren’t as advanced as now.

My daughters both have gone through the same experience as me, but much more manageable. The dentist I had them see also did their braces, and I became his patient.

“I am going to put a patch on this tooth,” he said to me. “This could break at lunch tomorrow, and you will need a permanent solution.”

It lasted ten years until it didn’t a few weeks ago. It seems everything that can cause trouble happens on a Friday night after ten p.m. when no help is available. And that’s when I crunched into a piece of popcorn.

Looking into the mirror, I saw that his work had come undone. The following week, I was in a chair for a cleaning and check. When I told the hygienist what had happened, she came forth quickly with information like an encyclopedia.

“I need to take your blood pressure,” she said, putting a watch-like band on my wrist. Gone are the days of the cuff on the arm and the air pumping that leads to your bicep being squeezed.

She had me hold out my arm, and she fastened it, hitting a start button. I could clearly see the numbers.

“So with that tooth, he is going to have to remove it completely. You will probably need an implant. My mom just had her tooth pulled for the same thing yesterday. Sorry.”

I kept watching my numbers climb. Her timing was terrible for delivering bad news while she was checking the rate at which my heart was beating. But, oddly, I felt peaceful. I had that happen before where I wasn’t panicked during a highly stressful situation but felt a calm come over me. Like what is described in Philippians 4:7,

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. (NLT)

After she went through the cleaning, he appeared and said that a root canal was necessary and then the application of a crown. My tooth would not be pulled as she had said.

My biggest worry was that he would lecture me on not having been in to see him for a while. He didn’t do that at all. The rest of my teeth were perfect.

“You had braces, right?”

“Yes. A long time ago.”

“But not by me.” He said it could have happened anytime whether I had been in or not.

“I’m just glad you are back. I love you and your girls. You guys are great.”

I thought there was going to be chastisement for my lack of care for myself. And that’s really what it had been. I kept putting it off because I put myself last as unimportant. In addition, the longer time went on in between visits, the more fearful I became. I never asked God’s advice. I just let myself slip into a wrong way of living, and I had mixed up a cocktail of fear and guilt. But, none of what I thought was going to happen ever did.

Instead, I was met with kindness, and he went to work repairing the damage.

That is the nature of God. Once you stop running away and making excuses, you will find that there is grace waiting. Many don’t do this, though, for fear of retribution. What if I had been met with a harsh response? Would I have died? No. The issue would have been resolved anyway. I would have been momentarily uncomfortable facing my disregard for my health, but it was the truth. I hadn’t kept up with my six-month checks as I should have. He had every right to put me in my place.

But he didn’t. Because he wants me to keep coming back. A good dentist and God operate that way. That’s wisdom and how fitting that this can be found in Proverbs 4:7-9,

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”(NLT)

(Next up..the castle)

Golden

When I chose to homeschool, it wasn’t as popular or understood as it is now.

“How will she socialize?”

“Won’t she be different than everyone else?”

“You can do that?”

“What about college?” This one I got asked when she was in kindergarten.

There were more fear inspiring inquiries, but I pressed on, trying to listen to that inward guide telling me to put aside the voices and give her an education that was meant to be.

I countered the naysayers by seeking out groups where I ended up teaching gym classes, arranged field trips, and wrote a newsletter to create a bond between all of us who were supposedly insane for wanting to teach our kids from home. We had relatives, neighbors, and friends looking at us with skepticism as if we were corrupting the next generations.

I met families with multiple children and watched as mothers utilized fantastic parenting skills to have each child learn responsibility by assigning the older ones to help out with the younger. We all had a common goal to see our kids learn but also be able to grow into their true selves

I signed my oldest daughter up for an ice skating class that was described for those who were home-educated. When we arrived, she ended up being the only student.

“We usually have more sign up, but I am willing to work one-on-one with her.”

So instead of a group class, my daughter was given private lessons.

Her first attempts were brutal. She fell over and over. But the teacher would pick her up and have her try again. It looked like a mess from where I was watching. And painful.

At the end of the first session, she said,

“She is a great skater with a lot of natural ability.”

That was the exact opposite of what I saw, so I thought maybe she was being nice.

“Go and get her a new pair of skates. What she is wearing is the problem. They aren’t supportive enough. With the right ones, she will fly on the ice.”

She wrote down the name and address where I could find her some.

We drove to the location, and I was able to rent her a pair. At her next class, she laced up and did as the teacher had said. She stumbled only slightly and stayed upright. The boots gave her the ankle support she needed to keep her from meeting the ice face first.

“Did you see the difference? She will move up on skills very quickly.”

She did, and by spring, I enrolled her in a nightly class where the same teacher was in charge of a group. The application of various techniques came easy for her. As I watched over the years from the stands, I saw her perform moves I never thought possible.

The night I saw the instructor do a single axle and then looked at her to repeat it, I thought…no way! I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see her feet leave the ground. It was one of those moments where you want to close your eyes but can’t because then you will miss it.

She did it perfectly.

Every year she performed in a show, similar to a dance recital. And while she was taking the ice by storm, I had a four-year-old who suddenly started dancing across the room.

I decided to enroll her in a preschool dance class. They learned simple steps by walking on their tiptoes, pushing small grocery carts, and leaping over strategically placed carpet squares. After a few sessions, I was approached by her teacher and was asked if she could go professional. At four?

“She’s got something the others don’t. Just think about it.”

All the kids got stage fright at the dance recital but not her. It ended up they all crowded around her and followed her steps. The teacher was right about what she had told me.

I considered the offer until I saw the next group of girls perform. They were in their young teens, if not preteen, and danced in a way that to me was not how I wanted my daughter to in her future. The outfits were revealing and the music sexually explicit. I knew as I watched, this wasn’t going to be her world.

The following fall, I had her go to a dance school that emphasized modesty and worked diligently on skills. It seemed to be a holistic approach to the art versus students throwing their bodies at the audience.

She thrived with other home-educated kids. And just like her sister, taking the stage caused her to act calmer. I could never fathom having to dance or skate in front of an audience. But not those two. They suddenly lost all fear and became so immersed in what they were doing that it looked effortless.

“She is so mean!” My daughter said, getting into the car after class.

“Who?”

“Maggie. She sticks out her tongue at me and glares. She’s mean!”

I had never heard her talk about anyone like that before. The following week, I figured out why this child was not so pleasant.

I was in the waiting room and overheard Maggie’s mom berating her.

“You are so stupid, Maggie. Get your stuff and get into class.” I observed a highly aggressive mom who verbally took shots at her daughter. She never said a kind word to her. I tried to start a conversation with her to see if I could uncover an underlying problem to help, but she was just as abrupt with me as her daughter.

I spoke with the teacher in private to clue her in on what I had witnessed. Not to gossip, but to see if someone else could develop a solution.

Nothing seemed to be working.

Christmas was coming, and a note was sent home that the kids could bring small gifts for everyone. My daughter chose to do gift bags. One of the things that she was giving was pencils that were glitter encased. We got a twelve-pack since there were eleven girls. This meant she could have one too.

To a seven-year-old girl, anything that sparkles makes life better. There were various colors but only one gold and one silver.

“Which one is yours?” I asked.

“I really want the gold one, but I’m giving it to Maggie,” she said as she put items together.

“You are? Even though she has been so terrible to you?”

“Yes. Her mom isn’t good to her, so maybe if someone is nice, she will change.”

This was beyond even what some adults were capable of.

She handed out the bags and noticed going forward that it helped her interactions with Maggie somewhat. Sadly, you can’t always undo years of damage with only one act of kindness. In time, Maggie returned to her old ways, but my daughter would smile back at her instead of getting upset.

That spring, for the dance recital, one of the costumes was a red leotard that had a matching feather that I had to clip into her hair. Before the performance, I saw Maggie and her mom snarling at each other. While I peacefully worked on my daughter’s outfit, those two had an awkward barking session in the corner. I never saw them enjoy each other’s company.

As the class was in the middle of their routine, Maggie’s feather broke free and started floating above her head. The kids had been drilled with the idea that nothing should stop them. If the music quit, they were to keep going. If a wardrobe malfunction happened, they were to solider on.

And they did, except for Maggie. She got distracted and chased her red feather across the stage. She batted at it, which only created more of a draft, sending it up higher, out of her reach more.

I heard the laughter begin and ripple through the audience. To those who didn’t know the situation, it was funny. It made me feel sad because this was just one more thing for Maggie to feel like a failure.

The song ended, and it floated to the ground next to a stressed-out Maggie.

Backstage as we picked up to leave, I heard,

“Just go get in the car, Maggie!”

And I saw her dejectedly go down the hall with her mom racing ahead of her.

That’s the last time I saw them.

This was a moment where my young daughter learned that there would be times when you can’t save everyone from their problems. Even though she tried to be compassionate toward Maggie, it went seemingly unnoticed. She was spending more time in a hostile environment, so my daughter’s actions weren’t enough to offset that. It was only a temporary fix for a short time once a week. Then, Maggie would go back to what was familiar, and even though it was destructive, it probably felt safe, so she didn’t know there was better.

“You tried,” was all I could think of to say. “And God knows that.”

Sometimes you have to be okay with that kind of result.

I am hoping that this girl and her mom had a divine intervention somewhere along the way. What a terrible pattern to keep repeating in a family line.

My daughter’s small attempt to disrupt it could have been a catalyst for change. You never know what God can do later when you aren’t looking. In Luke 6:35 it says,

I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. (NIV)

It’s like learning how to skate without the proper footwear; you fall and don’t want to get up, it hurts, but when you let God take over, you suddenly can glide along even with someone you are at odds with and they can be considered a frenemy.

It’s always good to apply the rule that is universal: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. With that, you will be golden.

Vessel

I woke up to take another sip of water. The skin on my forehead felt tight from a sunburn, but my symptoms were not from the after effects of a tropical vacation. Instead, it was the flu.

I had heard all the reports that year about how bad it was. People who were in good health had died because this one was supposedly the worst strain yet. This was three years before the pandemic, but it wasn’t given as much publicity.

I implemented what I had learned from my upbringing from my mom, the personal in-house nurse,

“Drink, Chris,” she would say when I didn’t want to.

“No. I’m not thirsty.”

“Do it anyway.”

I would put my lips on the edge of the glass and pretend.

“You didn’t take any. Drink!”

When I was that sick and fatigued, the last effort I wanted to make was swallowing liquid.

“I can tell by the color in your face that you need water,” she would say. If she forgot her thermometer, she would either put the back of her hand on my face or her lips on my forehead. She never seemed fearful of contracting what I had. She had to run the house, so even germs obeyed. She was in control. Not an illness.

We could be sprayed down with Lysol at the door, made to choke down substances that are illegal to give humans now, and forced to gargle the salt content of the entire Dead Sea. A spoon coming at me always meant something disgusting was about to hit my tongue.

If a disease dared to manifest itself in her home, she would become a totally different person. I wasn’t used to her giving me a lot of attention. And, I would have gladly done without it.

If one or more of us were down, she had lists of medications, times, and temperature checks. You were on her roster, and she would make her rounds.

I couldn’t keep anything from coming back up during one particular illness, so the forced fluids weren’t working. She noticed that I had started to throw up dried blood from my lungs.

The following day I woke up to the smell of popcorn. The minute my eyes opened, she came into my bedroom with a bowl of it and a glass of room temperature pop.

“I want you to try and eat this.”

Everything in me refused, but she insisted.

“Just try it, Chris. Just one small piece.”

I put it in my mouth, too tired to chew, and fell back to sleep. Throughout the day, she would tell me to eat more, and for some odd reason, it started not to be so bad, and I was also developing this incredible thirst. I drank down the initial glass, and she filled it up.

By the end of that day, I had drank a lot. A few days later, I was improving rapidly.

“Remember that night you threw up what looked like coffee grounds?” She asked. It was hard to forget.

“Yes.”

“I asked the Holy Spirit what I should do. That’s one of the first signs of pneumonia. I heard to make you popcorn and put a lot of salt on it, and it would make you well. It would make you thirsty.”

I bet that tip isn’t on any web MD list of recommendations.

She had pulled us all through times of physical distress by applying her nursing skills and praying for guidance.

She ingrained it in me so strongly that when I had a run-in with the superbug of the century that year, I did what she had always said,

“Drink, Chris, drink!”

It is easier to make yourself do it as an adult because you understand the goal better. The idea is to flood the system and force the invasion out. If I did this at the onset, it would shorten its duration by days and give my immune system control.

So I would wake up, try not to think about the death toll, and finish one cup at a time.

During one of my hydro sessions, I went into my email. I don’t know how they had gotten my address, but there was an invitation to be a book reviewer online.

In my feverish haze, I typed in all my information, set up an account, and drifted off. Two weeks later, I recalled I had done something.

Sure enough. I had signed up. I investigated and found I was on the very bottom of the pile. There were six levels to achieve, kind of like a video game where you have to show your merit.

My first undertaking was written by a pastor who took the age-old story of Adam and Eve and made it new. I had specific guidelines to follow as I wrote out my paragraphs from my notes. It had to be run by the elite editors on the site and checked for adherence to the guideline rules.

I had to strictly implement certain criteria into each one or face the firing squad. On the one hand, I could write freely, giving my thoughts, but on the other, I had to include key elements, such as listing the title and the author’s name. And if any of these requirements were missing or not done as ordered, the review could be rejected.

I passed the first one with flying colors, and since I was a novice, they gave me no payment. As I said, I had to prove myself worthy. By my fifth attempt, I was moving up levels quickly, earning bonus points, and was at 6, the writers who were offered the higher paying jobs.

I fought my way through a couple of author disputes. All the writers were grateful for the most part, but a couple had their egos all wrapped up in their books. I understand it is a part of you when you write, but a few of them were so suspicious of us not giving them the perfect review, they would attack for no reason. The moderator had to step in on my behalf to appease the other party.

One of the worst offenders was a church leader.

The business owner changed some of his rules and decided that if you were at the top, you had to participate in editing other reviewers’ work. I did not enjoy this at all. If I felt someone had done an excellent job, but another editor found fault with something, we had to argue our point. I didn’t go to school to be a lawyer. It wasted my time and took away from the real reason I was there.

This created an unhealthy relationship between all of us. Once getting glowing scores, my reviews now became subject to a harsh system where I started to feel as if my writing was failing. It was the same, if not better, but the editors were told to find something wrong to keep too many from climbing too fast. I had to dispute many remarks made and defend my work to keep my score high. The grading became degrading.

Slowly, it took away my joy of what had always come so easily to me.

After three years of being under that scrutiny, I took a long break and kept everything I wrote to myself. The day I quit, I immediately went back to reading what I wanted, just like I always had. It felt like I was taking in oxygen again. Because of the rules, I started to believe I wasn’t a good writer anymore based on a faulty system. I had to conform, or I wasn’t approved. I had let the judgments of others get to me.

I heard The Little Drummer Boy playing in a store the other day. It reminded me of one of my brothers, who is naturally talented in drumming. He, too, went through situations where instead of being allowed to play freely, he was expected to follow a particular beat and restrain his abilities.

While in high school, I recall this happening in a music class where my parents realized an instructor was crushing him down. He wanted to quit and started to feel inadequate. When really, he was great at it.

My mom noticed that his nightly practice in the basement wasn’t happening. Usually, for an hour every evening, we would have to yell at each other to communicate over the crashing sounds from below. You could hear him down the block.

“He used to sit in the middle of the kitchen floor and drag out all my pots and pans to play. He could barely walk and was in diapers when he did that,” she always told me.

It was unusual for his drums to sit silent.

It became a learning time for him as it had for me. Not everyone will see what God has blessed a person with, and from those places, you walk away. If you aren’t appreciated for what you bring, then that’s a sign you aren’t in the spot you have been created for. Sometimes things aren’t going to follow the way that things are ‘normally’ done. I was healed from pneumonia one popcorn bowl at a time.

In 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, it puts it into perspective the only One who we have to please with our abilities:

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere, but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere, but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! (Message)

When I heard the song, I listened to the lyrics. The drummer comes to play because that’s his gift to offer. He isn’t the main attraction in the story, but he carries an important message. He isn’t there to win over the crowd but to display the abilities that are God given, to do something he loves, make the world better and be a vessel.

Dark Days of Debt

“I need to transfer a balance,” I said.

“Okay, Christine, we can help you with that. I just need to collect some information from you.”

It was the usual rundown of my work history, wages, and place of employment.

“We will have to check your credit report to see what that is. Can I put you on hold?”

“Yes,” I said.

It had been eight long years of feeling the burden of this crushing my spirit. I had transferred the balance more than a few times, and luckily, I had been able to.

I had found myself owing $10,000 because a situation went sour. Decisions were made that didn’t turn out as planned, and I was swamped under what seemed like a giant. I had never had this happen before, and it won’t again, but I learned a few things.

At one point in this financial desert, God told me to give money to a person who needed it. While everything in me screamed no, I did it anyway. After doing so, I had unexpected money come my way, and in a matter of months, I had cut my amount down to $5000.

After that, I stopped believing I could get out from under it. I blamed myself for not being smarter and denied myself many things as punishment. I reasoned inwardly that I would go without anything new for myself if I had money to pay toward offsetting the monster.

Not that I ever spent money like water anyway, but I went down this very depressing path, believing money and I were at odds. My messed up beliefs drew in more pain and self-inflicted whippings to ensure I knew how stupid I was. The more I embraced this, the easier it was to let a poverty mentality take over.

I had become my own mob boss, making threats and degrading myself. I didn’t know this,

If they obey and serve him, they will have a good, long life on easy street. (Job 36:11/Message)

I felt that God could trust other people with finances but not me. Yet, I had an outstanding credit score after coming through a difficult divorce. I had forgotten how much God had shown up for me during that time.

I let the idea that I put myself into trouble at my own doing, so I had to get myself out of it. I didn’t expect heaven to take pity on me and send out a rescue team. I needed to be taught a lesson.

It was always there breathing down my neck, the clock running out on another balance transfer. I had managed to keep the amount low until my water heater went out. I had gotten the total down to under $5000 by making minimum payments, but then it went up to $8000 overnight.

I had no savings because every dime went for bills and food. If I had wanted clothes, I would have talked myself out of it because I wasn’t as crucial as that credit card payment. It was ruling over my life like an evil Queen.

“It looks like you are approved,” she said, coming back on the line.

“This is the last time I’m doing this,” I said.

She laughed like I was crazy.

“No. I have moved this money since 2013. This is it. I’m not doing it again.”

“Your card should arrive in 7-10 business days.”

“Okay. My goal is to pay this off and never use the card.”

“Good luck to you, Christine. I’m glad we could help you.” She couldn’t get rid of me quick enough because I was talking nonsense. She had probably heard people say this a million times.

I meant it. I decided that would be the last time I would ever do that. I was starting to wake up to the notion that I was using it as a crutch instead of paying it off. It was an easy way out until the time expired. It doesn’t take any faith to play the game that way. You put it off and put it off year after year. Like a good victim of misfortune.

I had never paid interest, but I had fees on a few of the transfers, which just increased the problem. I was done living like this after all that time. It was January of 2020. I made up my mind that even if I had to leave it at the end of the promotional year, and pay interest, I would.

I was not moving it again. Ever.

I had been given a journal that I found in my room in August. I started writing this every day: I am living a happy, fulfilling, all-expense paid life, fully funded by God.

Those words had dropped into my mind, and they were easy to remember. I then would ask myself: How am I happy? How am I fulfilled? How is God funding my life?

After writing the short affirmation, I would go through and answer those every day. I wrote down what I had left as a balance: $4,229.00. That was August 28th. Then as I made payments, I would write the amount I paid and the total left. On November 4, 2020, I paid it off. I had done what I told myself was impossible for eight years in three months.

I could breathe again. It had felt like a chokehold on me for many days and nights. Once I decided not to settle, the money came so I could free myself. It was like thinking I had a padlock on my arms and legs when really, it was a loose rope that I was able to slip out of.

As I go back and read what I wrote during that time, I see that I thanked God for every small thing, and I put down on paper what I wanted even if it hadn’t happened yet. This is what last year’s entry looked like:

December 8,2020
How am I fulfilled? I can be myself, do what I want, and live free with God by my side. I know that He is helping me with all things.

How is God funding my all-expense paid life? I am happily paying all my bills, putting money aside to do with as God directs. Money is my friend that goes to work on my behalf. Money works for me.

How am I rewarded in this life? I am surrounded by good, like-minded, and supportive people who love me and help me without any conditions applied.

At the end of these passages, I always wrote down five things I was grateful for that went back to the ideas listed in the opening sentence. It was repetitive, but that’s how you start to believe it.

What I noticed and still see occurring is that my words have created my surroundings very different from how I used to function. Once I decided to let God work with me, instead of fighting against it, all my circumstances changed. I was no longer “surviving.” I was actually living.

When I started off to make it better, I had no idea how it would happen, but I listened to every message from heaven and applied it.

I was the problem. Not God. Me. You. Us. We are. You think you don’t deserve it. She thinks she isn’t good enough. He convinces himself he is not worthy. It’s all wrong. I assumed I was a bad person because I made a mistake. I thought there was no divine intervention for me. I found out how wrong I was. I didn’t even have to believe that diligently. I just had to block out all the negativity that surrounded the issue.

I set an intention with God and put it into His hands, knowing I would be given something extraordinary. I had a goal to pay that off in one year. It was gone in three months. Why? Because God’s ways are not our ways. What if I had insisted on making it a year? I could have walked around telling everyone I would pay it off by the end of the year. I hoped.

Instead, I kept it between God and me. I did what I could, didn’t put limitations on it by talking stupidity, and watched the magic unfold. Silence is golden. Whoever made that up, they get it. Keeping my mouth shut unless I blessed it was the most significant piece to succeeding.

In 1 Peter 5:7, it tells us what to do that I didn’t do for eight long years,

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. (Message)

If you are under the weight of something that seems like it will take you out, turn to the One who has all the answers. What I owed got paid off, but what I cannot get back is the time I wasted. I don’t recommend doing what I did.

Ask for help quickly, watch as God gets out an eraser, and let the bondage be broken as you are granted your release from the dark days of debt.